By: Mia Watson

April 26, 2021

Fair Housing Month is an opportunity to explore ways to promote housing opportunity throughout the year. Communities play important role to play in fair housing because many local practices or policies that seem outwardly reasonable can promote housing discrimination or segregation. The Vermont Housing Data website’s Housing-Ready Toolbox includes resources to help municipalities comply with fair housing laws and create more equitable, inclusive communities.

Federal and state fair housing laws prohibit practices that result in discrimination against people in protected classes, such as people of a certain race or sexual orientation, regardless of whether there was an intent to discriminate. These practices include municipal regulations, subsidies, proprietary activities (when a municipality buys or sells property), and municipal services.

Notably, Vermont law offers greater protections than the Federal Fair Housing Act, including prohibiting discrimination based on receipt of public assistance and denial of development permitting based on the income of prospective residents.

Fair housing violations often occur when municipalities fail to make reasonable accommodations to policies. This can include refusing to allow exceptions to zoning rules to allow people with disabilities to make their homes more accessible. Municipalities can also violate fair housing laws by adding too many barriers to building certain types of housing, including delaying permits or requiring the approval of neighboring property owners for group homes or homes that will serve low-income tenants.

However, municipalities can do more to promote equity and inclusion than simply comply with fair housing laws. This can include establishing policies that support fair housing and address specific local housing needs. Municipalities can review land use policies to remove overly restrictive requirements that make it difficult to build affordable and accessible housing and consider incentives to meet local needs. Establishing a local housing commission can help carry out these initiatives and build public will for change.

The Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development in partnership with Vermont Legal Aid and the Fair Housing Project of CVOEO will offer a fair housing training for municipal officials to explore these issues in greater depth on Wednesday, April 28th from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

The Vermont Housing Data Website’s Housing-Ready Toolbox was developed in partnership with the Thriving Communities and Fair Housing Projects of CVOEO.